My First 787: Latam Business Sydney-Auckland

Finding a way of booking a Business Class ticket for not much more than a regular coach ticket is one of the Holy Grails of Travel! LATAMs flight between Sydney and Auckland offers a very affordable Business Class fare. It often costs not a lot more than Qantas charges for an Economy fare on the same route and is half of the fare Emirates, Air New Zealand and Qantas charge for the sector.

There are some downsides of the LATAM option, which will become clear but it is a nice way to cross the Tasman.

LATAM is the brand formed from the merger of LAN of Chile and Brazil’s TAM. The new brand was launched in May, 2016.

Booking: 9/10

From start to finish, the LATAM website makes booking very easy. It has clear graphics with a smooth interface. The ability to easily choose which currency to pay in was appreciated.

Ten years ago, in 2006, LAN Airlines merged first and business classes of service into a single class, named Premium Business. This is what we booked for this flight.

We selected our seats easily. There was no option in the booking for special meals. They have to be ordered from their contact centre by telephone 24 hours in advance.

Premium Business passengers can check in three items of baggage. Each piece can weigh up to 23 kg. Carry on luggage is a very generous 15kg, which we took advantage of.

Economy passengers can check-in two pieces at 23 kg each. Carry-on luggage allowance is 8kg. There were many people in the checkin line who were clearly making full use of their allowances!

Check-in: 7/10

We were able to complete a pre-check in but not a full check in online.

As I mentioned last Friday, our flight was cancelled. LATAM never advised us by phone or email or text. We learnt via their app and from the boards at the airport. We were  transferred to another flight, albeit departing at a time seven hours later than our original scheduled time. Our preference was to come back 24 hours later, such was our determination to fly the 787 and such was our flexibility!

Apparently, LATAM has a reputation for cancelling this flight particularly between Auckland and Sydney.

So, on the next day, we arrived back for check in again. We waited only a very short time in the line before being assisted by a very warm and friendly Qantas staff member. The total check in process took us eight minutes.

LATAM also issued us with passes to go through the Express queue for immigration and security. This is a really great time saver. My only issue is that often staff re-direct people from the standard queue to the Express line reducing some of the Express benefit. Even so, it took us 33 minutes from arrival at the airport to the Lounge.

Lounge: 8/10

LATAM issue an invitation to visit the Qantas lounge. This is the lounge I use every time I fly out of Australia on Qantas. The same one I have access to already with my Qantas/OneWorld Gold status but apparently I still need an invite! The Business Lounge is looking a little tired around the edges. It has a great range of seats, terrific food, nice showers and some delicious treats. As I have identified previously, the Lounge suffers from a scheduling problem. Qantas and their partners have most of their flight departures in the morning so the lounge gets very crowded in the mornings and is less utilised in the afternoons.

Boarding: 7/10 

This felt a little chaotic.
The people in front of us did not have their passports ready to show the staff which was a requirement of boarding. An entire family rummaged through their bags looking for passports blocking all of us behind them.
Finally, the gate attendant lost patience and asked them to stand aside to let people behind then though which they did very reluctantly. He was very friendly to us.
We were welcomed in Spanish and English at the door of the plane. The welcome was professional but not warm. I know the cabin crew are on leg three of a five-day trip from home but I would have liked to see some of the Latin passion appearing!
A welcome drink of orange juice or water was offered. I asked the cabin attendant about the airline’s signature drink: Pisco Sour.  She muttered something about checking if it was ready and vanished to the galley. I never got my answer.
The welcome drink was followed by the amenity kit. I had been warned not to expect much on this short sector so I was not disappointed by the gift of toothbrush, pen and earplugs wrapped in a cloth package. I left mine on board.
The Plane: 
LAN Airlines was the launch customer in the Americas of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in 2012.  LATAM have ordered 29 787s and currently have ten of the 787-8 which the first started receiving in 2012 and ten 787-9’s which they started operating last year:
 We were on 787-9 serial number CC-BGV that had first flown in September last year so it was still looking very new. The 787-9 can seat 313 passengers in the following configuration:
  • Thirty in Premium Business seated in Rows One to Five in a 2/2/2 arrangement. Passengers have 75″ of legroom and 23″ of seat width. Most of the seats have aisle access. The window seat passengers need to clamber over their aisle seat neighbours.boeing-787-9-5 (1)
  • Galleys separate Premium Business from the main cabin.
  • Rows 12 to 16  contain 51 “Space+” Economy seats which give passengers 34″ of leg room. Seats are 17.6″ wide and arranged nine across in a 3/3/3 layout.
  • Rows 17 to 42: 232 Economy seats with a 32″ pitch and are also arranged 3/3/3 with the 17.6″ width. It looked pretty crowded through the Economy section!
IMG_2173 Another galley is at the back of the plane.
The huge windows, cabin width and ceiling height all give the aeroplane an incredibly spacious feel. I definitely fell in love with the Dreamliner!
On board: 8/10
The cabin looked way nicer than I expected.  The red seats can look a little “cheap” in pictures but in “real life” they looked great.
There are two lavatories in the front of the plane for the 30 Business class passengers, an average of 15 passengers per toilet. There are three lavatories in the middle of the economy and two at the rear of the plane. This gives an average of 55 Economy passengers per toilet! Many airlines make a fuss of their Business customers with little extras such as cologne or flowers on display. LATAM’s Premium Business lavatories had some refresher towelletes in a plastic cup and a body mist spray.
The Premium Business seat:
 3466f06cf856b5c94ca20b91706ec5dd
Take Off
This is a plane of the modern era. The Rolls Royce engines kicked in with their beautiful sound giving us a take off that felt effortless with few rattles, shudders or squeals. Like the Airbus 380, the 787 is meant to fly.  You definitely did not have to shout to your seat neighbour over the take off noises. A roll to the right took us over the beaches of Sydney to begin our track eastward to New Zealand, three hours away,
Watching the wing flex at take off and landing is fascinating. Well worth tearing your head away from an episode of Modern Family to watch this modern feat of engineering.

 Soon after takeoff, we were provided with a hot towel. Bliss!

Meal: 4/10

This was a perfectly delicious meal accompanied by incredibly lacklustre service.

IMG_2167
For a start, there was no meal choice. The cabin crew demanded that passengers have their tables ready and then the meal was slapped down in front of each passenger. There was none of the formality of British Airways, or  sense of occasion of Emirates or the warmth of Qantas. There was no explanation of what we were eating or even a wish for us to enjoy our meal! I thought Chileans had a sense of life and passion!

The drink service was marginally better but there was no attempt to re-fill glasses. I was even surprised that I had to ask for my water glass to be re-filled, something I have never had to do on any airline’s business class before. In fact some airlines keep Economy passengers better refreshed!

The bread rolls were not fresh.

Entertainment: 7/10

The screen in Premium Business is 15 inches. In Economy, it is nine inches.

The system was very easy to us and you could search easily for titles of shows. Content felt dated but there was a good selection which could keep one entertained from Australia to Chile. LATAM claim that they have 110 films, 42 TV channels, 1000+ albums, ten audio channels and 25 games.

My headset only worked with an irritating buzz cutting over the soundtracks. I switched to my own headphones.

The one time the Cabin crew seemed to get animated was when they were providing the duty-free service.

Landing

As we began our descent, I was a little surprised that we had not been given landing cards for New Zealand. I have crossed the Taman multiple times and always been given one. I asked one of the cabin crew and she brought me one and then passed some to other passengers. We wondered if we had not asked, would they have distributed them?

A stunning landing into the City of Sails 24 hours after we were meant to arrive there! One flight I did not want to leave!

 

The Verdict: 70%

My Flight Rating: Overall 70% (3.5 out of 5). Disappointing for a Business Class flight- no matter the price!

My overall rating of LAN/LATAM: 83%- ahead of Delta and Malaysia at 82% and behind Turkish at 90%.

Skytrax: LATAM has a three-star rating from Skytrax – which I think they more than live up to. Skytrax customers rate them at 6/10. LAN and TAM were chosen as the Best Airlines in South America in 2015 which makes me fear for the worst airline.
Safety Rating: Airline ratings gives 7/7 which is comforting!

Frequent Flyer Program: I accumulated points with Qantas

Positives:  Website, the plane, the seat.
Negatives: Staff lack of friendliness, dated range of entertainment, the initial cancellation, the meal service
Would I fly them again? Yes

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Comments

  1. They looked after us. I am not sure if they provide the same support to all passengers as Business Class. The poor staff were all busy organising alternate flights etc.

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